Retshidisitswe Mlenga and Tshenolo Lemao traded places yesterday as they took another gold-silver sprint finish for South Africa at the world U18 championships in Nairobi‚ this time in the boys’ 200m.
Mlenga picked up a third gong‚ a bronze‚ in the mixed 4x400m relay, to ensure that South Africa ended the age-group showpiece top of the medals table with five gold‚ three silver and three bronze.
China was second and Cuba third‚ both with five golds‚ but fewer silvers.
SA’s big push came on Saturday when Breyton Poole took high jump gold while Sokwakhana Zazini and Zeney van der Walt won the boys’ and girls’ 400m hurdles.
Standing at 172cm, the diminutive Poole cleared 2.24m to earn a comfortable victory, just 1cm short of Jacques Freitag’s 18year-old national youth best.
“I feel great, having set two best heights in the same competition,” Poole said.
“Previous coaches discouraged me because of my height and I decided to work harder. Today I proved them all wrong.”
Zazini won by nearly three seconds over his nearest rival‚ while Van der Walt put everything into her finish to edge Jamaican Sanique Walker by four-hundredths of a second after her rival‚ with a handsome lead‚ had stumbled over the final hurdle.
Zazini lived up to the hype as the pre-race favourite. “This is the moment I [was] looking forward to,” he said.
“The whole world and South Africa were watching, so I had to deliver,” he said.
Van der Walt delivered a gutsy performance to snatch gold from favourite Walker.
Lemao had taken South Africa’s first gold on Wednesday in the 100m‚ with Mlenga second.
In the 200m yesterday, Mlenga was in front coming out of the turn and held his advantage all the way to the line to cross in a 21.03sec season’s best.
Lemao was second in a 21.12 personal best and Luis Brandner, of Germany, third in 21.23‚ also a personal best.
Mlenga later teamed up with Zazini‚ Van der Walt and Gontse Morake to finish third in the relay behind Brazil and Jamaica.
The US‚ Britain and Australia did not send teams to this event‚ also the final world U18 championships‚ which began in 1999.
Success there is not the same marker of success at senior level as the U20 championships have been.
Of all the South Africans who won the country’s 26 U18 medals from 1999 to 2009‚ only high-jumper Freitag converted that into podium success at senior level.
Similarly‚ of the six boys’ 200m winners in the same period‚ only Usain Bolt (2003) and Kirani James (2009) made the transition to Olympic and world championship podiums.